Read every day [book excerpt]

Good students are readers.

Why? First, they have a large store of background knowledge. Second, they have large vocabularies. Third, they can read quickly with excellent comprehension.

Reading is a habit that can be acquired, like any other habit. The lucky people acquire the habit of reading when they are little children. They’re the ones who must be forced to put down their books to come to the dinner table; who stay up past their bedtime, reading by flashlight under their blankets; who sit in the backseat of the car with their nose in a book; and who long for summer, when they will have time to do nothing else but read.

If you are one of these people, skip the rest of this section and go on to other good habits that you may not have acquired.

If you’re not yet a habitual reader, begin now. Continue reading “Read every day [book excerpt]”

Practice Moral Courage (book excerpt)

Practice moral courage.
Moral courage enables you to stand up for what you believe in when others disagree. When others propose to do something they shouldn’t, the person with moral courage is able to make his or her own choice, instead of going along with the crowd. When others are saying things that are rude, or hurtful, or inappropriate, the person with moral courage calls them on it. When others are mistreating someone, the person with moral courage defends him.

This is the hardest habit to acquire. Continue reading “Practice Moral Courage (book excerpt)”

How to save time and learn more: the daily review (book excerpt)

Take five minutes to review every lesson you’ve had each day. Put your notes in order, jot down any questions you have about the lesson, etc. This will really pay off.

Remember that fable about the ant and the grasshopper? The ant spends the warm months collecting food for the winter and preparing his lodgings while the grasshopper eats when he’s hungry and plays the rest of the time. When winter comes the ant is warm and snug, with a good supply of food, but the grasshopper is freezing and starving.

Fables are not really about animals or insects, of course. They’re about you and me.

You probably know students—you may be one of them—who do little studying until the days just before a test. The night before the test, these students may stay up late cramming. Sometimes, they do fine. As you move up from grade to grade, however, the tests get harder, and the amount of material they cover grows. It becomes very difficult to wait until the last minute, cram, and still do well. When you reach the big examinations at the end of Grade 12, it’s impossible.

If you still have the habit of cramming for tests in Grade 12, it will be very hard to break it and replace it with better habits. The time to form good study habits is now, when tests aren’t so difficult—or so important to your future—as they will be later on.

The habit of reviewing every day for five minutes is easy to practice. Once you have established it as a routine, you’ll find that cramming for tests has become unnecessary. Here’s how you do it.

Let’s say you have four academic classes on Wednesday. On Wednesday night, you start your homework session with four five-minute review sessions. For each class, you have your textbook, your notes, and any handouts from the teacher. Using your notes, think back over that day’s lesson. What topics were covered? What were you supposed to learn? Did you understand everything? Do you have any questions about the day’s lesson? Write down any questions you have in a section of your notes, clearly labeled with the date and the topic. If any of the five minutes remains, go through your notes, handouts, or textbook and search for the answers to your questions. Any questions not cleared up during the review or the homework should be asked in class during the next lesson.

Do this for each of the classes you had that day, whether or not you have homework in those subjects. When you’ve finished, or every 20 to 30 minutes, take a five-minute break to stretch, walk around, have a snack, etc. Just be sure the break is no longer than five minutes. Then go back to work, this time doing whatever homework assignments you have.

The mini review
Here’s an even quicker way to review. Every afternoon or evening, answer three questions, in writing, about each class you had that day:

What is one thing you learned in the lesson?

What is one question you have about the lesson?

What is one thing covered in the lesson that you’d like to know more about?

If you can answer these questions, you were certainly paying attention in class and thinking about the lesson! Next day in class, ask the questions you still have about each lesson.

Daily reviews have several purposes:

They help you to store in long-term memory what you have learned in class each day. Scientists studying how the brain works have established that without regular reviews like this, whatever you have “learned” never moves from short-term memory into long-term memory, and before long it disappears! Then when test time approaches, the memory bank is empty, and you’re back to cramming. If you review regularly, you store the important ideas and information in your long-term memory, where they will remain safe and secure until you need them—on a test, for example.

They help you to identify the questions you have. Just a few minutes’ review will bring to mind questions you would otherwise forget about. Good students ask questions, and the key to getting the right answers is asking the right questions. The more you think of questions and ask them, the more you will learn.

They help prepare you to do any homework assignments that are based on that day’s lesson. Homework often aims to review and reinforce material that has been introduced in class. At other times, homework is designed to introduce a new topic. Since one lesson often leads to the next one, the best preparation for doing homework is to review what you did in class that day.

No study technique or work habit is more important to your success in school than daily review. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it makes homework and tests easier, too!

Use a homework diary every day (book excerpt)

Whether you call it a student agenda, a day planner, or a homework diary, it’s the most important tool of a successful student.

You need a homework diary to stay organized, and you need a homework diary for successful goal-setting. I have yet to find a disorganized student who uses his or her diary regularly. I have yet to find a failed attempt at goal-setting in which a daily record was kept in a homework diary.

So why do so many students ignore this vital tool? Because teachers rarely require the use of a homework diary. They may encourage it, they may nag or remind, but few require it, and even when they do, most of their colleagues don’t. So, at best, students will be required to use their diaries in one or two of their five or six classes each day. As readers of this book should know, habits are created by repetition, and under such circumstances the repeated behaviour is to ignore the homework diary—exactly the habit that most students cultivate.

If you want to do something to improve education in your school, lend this book to your principal or head of school, and convince him or her to require the use of homework diaries by every teacher in every class (even gym teachers sometimes assign homework or give out information that needs to be diaried).

As with so many other good habits, using a homework diary becomes more important every year. You may be able to do fine without one in the younger grades, but don’t let this fool you into developing bad habits that will hurt you later on. Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed with a busy schedule and heavy workload. Cultivate the habit when you’re younger and life is simpler.

If you’re on your own, enlist the help of your parents and make daily use of your homework diary your first goal. Use a wall calendar at home to record the number of classes each day in which you use your diary. A simple “5/7” (5 out of 7) or “4/5” will do. Ask your parents to remind you to take your diary to school each day, and take it to every class. When you arrive in class, take out your diary and put it on your desktop, first thing. If you do this in every class, it will become a powerful habit. And if the diary is on your desktop, of course, it’s quite easy to remember to open it up and record the homework assignment.

A final tip: If the teacher assigns no homework, don’t just leave your diary blank. A blank entry could mean no homework, or it could mean you forgot to write the assignment in your diary. Instead, write something like “Science: No HW”. That way, there’s no confusion.

Using a homework diary in every class is the key to staying organized, and the key to successful goal-setting. Start today!

Drink lots of water (book excerpt)

The brain—and the rest of the body—needs plenty of water to work at its peak levels.

Recent research by scientists studying the brain tells us what our grandmothers have always known: the body needs plenty of water to stay in good working order. When you study at home, have a pitcher of water at hand. At school, ask permission to have a bottle of water at your desk. The rule of thumb is that we should drink 6–8 glasses a day (about 48–64 oz., or somewhere between 1.5 and 2 litres).

Soda pop is not an approved substitutes for water. The sugar content in these drinks puts you on a roller-coaster of sugar highs and lows, and it does nothing to help your body—including your brain—work better. Fruit juice? Energy drinks? No. Stick with water.

Eat properly, get enough sleep, and stay drug-free (book excerpt)

Your brain—have I mentioned this already?—is part of your body.

You can’t expect your brain to do its best unless you take care of it. Junk food, irregular meals, inadequate sleep, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, “recreational” drugs—all of these diminish your brain’s ability to work. All of them, too, are entirely avoidable—bad habits people slip into because they take the easy way, the lazy way. Be smarter than that.

And if you’ve already developed, or begun to develop, a bad habit in this area, break it now!

Skipping breakfast is a common error in today’s society. I’ve made this the topic of my sample goal. If you aren’t sure what a “proper breakfast” is, now is a great time to learn a bit about nutrition. Your parents and teachers may be able to help you with this (see Chapter 4: Getting Help from Parents and Teachers).

How to Define a Goal (book excerpt)

A poorly defined goal will be pretty useless. Look at this one:

“My goal is to improve my marks in English.”

This is a nice idea, but it’s not a well-defined goal, because it leaves many important questions unanswered. For example, how much improvement is desired? How will the improvement be measured? Over what period of time is the goal to be achieved? What action is required to achieve the goal? How will progress toward the goal be recorded and judged?

A well-defined goal answers these questions right from the beginning. Continue reading “How to Define a Goal (book excerpt)”